First Reading: First Kings 17:10-16
Responsorial Psalm: Psalms 146:7, 8-9, 9-10
Second Reading: Hebrews 9:24-28
Gospel: Mark 12:38-44 or 12:41-44
Shared Homily Starter
As I pondered the readings for today, two words came immediately to mind: sacrifice and generosity. But as I thought about these words, altruism seemed to be the word that actually conveyed the meaning of the readings. Altruism consists of sacrificing something for someone else with no expectation of any direct or indirect compensation or benefits.
In the first reading, we are told that when Elijah asked the widow for a piece of bread, she tells him that she only has a handful of meal and a little oil. She is going to make the last meal for her son and herself with it. Still, she shares it with Elijah. Now, you may think that she shared what she had with Elijah for gain; that she did it because Elijah promised her that God would ensure that the meal and the oil would last until the rains came. But I don’t think that was the case.
I think that when she heard Elijah’s words, she thought to herself, hunger has made this poor old man crazy; if we’re going to die anyway, I might as well share with this crazy old man. I think it was her altruism that caused the words that God spoke to Elijah to become a reality. Her altruism made the miracle happen.
The second reading explains to us that high priests offer sacrifices again and again with the blood of animals not their own blood. They don’t give of themselves but Jesus, however, made his sacrifice only once with his own blood. Scripture says Jesus offered himself and suffered for our sins. Jesus, offered himself because of his love for us; because God is love.
Some of you have heard me say that sin is acting against love and therefore, acting in an ungodly, unloving manner. How can we act Godly and loving? The Psalm tells us how we could imitate God. Our God executes justice for the oppressed, gives food to the hungry, lifts up those who are bowed down, watches over strangers and, upholds the orphan and the widow.
The just society in Jesus’ time was just as imaginary as it is in ours. But in his act of sacrifice, Jesus showed us how difficult it can become when we work for justice. We may not be called to die in the cause of justice but we are all called to sacrifice time, energy or possessions to bring about the kin-dom. Imagine!
The Gospel for today helps clarify what I’m talking about. First, St. Mark for gives us the “beware” or the “this is what you shouldn’t do” example of the scribes. They like to flaunt and demand deference to their importance. These scribes want to be greeted with respect and given the best seats in the house. They pretend to be devout by praying long enough to be seen by others as prayerful. Yet they cheat widows out of their homes through usury and fraud.
Mark contrasts the actions of the scribes and of the rich with the actions of the poor widow. It doesn’t matter that this widow put only a pittance into the collection box. What matters is that she gave all that she had. It also doesn’t matter that the rich gave huge sums. What matters is how they acquired their wealth and that they gave from what they defrauded from people in need.
Now some of us might be a bit cynical and say, well this widow was doing it to “store up treasures in heaven”. But remember we are talking about a Jewish woman. And the Judaism of Jesus’ time is much more focused on actions than in beliefs, such as heaven or sheol. The prophets and sages of ancient Israel didn’t spend much time on speculations about the world to come. Rather, they elaborated on how God’s commands are to be acted on in this life.
So how does this look on the ground? There are things we can consider. We can start with an honest self evaluation. For example, one of the most humbling lessons I learned was that for all my “oppressed black woman” status, I am still complicit in the injustice present in the world. Knowing this and owning it were the first step in becoming humble; in acknowledging that I am no better than they. Now that I know, I have to work for change in myself and in the world.
Jesus’ self-sacrifice was the ultimate in altruism; some of us may have heard that we can follow the footsteps of Christ by dying to self. When I used to hear the term, dying to self, I envisioned some mystical state reserved for the super-holy, vision-seeing few. I have come to understand that, dying to self, is not a faraway or unattainable virtue, especially when I recall that pithy expression, “keep it simple”. I have come to believe that every time we make a decision that opts for heart, love, or compassion over what is easy and comfortable, we are choosing the die-to-self option. The wonderful significance in hearing this is that we can more consciously and intentionally choose to act out of that option when opportunities present themselves, for example, when opportunities present themselves, such as to work locally and globally for justice with those who are oppressed; for justice for our home, the Earth; for the elimination of hunger and homelessness; and, to reach out to our brothers and sisters who are marginalized and excluded.
Every time we sacrifice time, energy or possessions for someone else without expectations, we are acting altruistically. The opposite of altruism is selfishness. Jesus was the ultimate in unselfishness and his work on this earth was to bring God’s love to the world. We demonstrate concretely our gratitude for God’s love, by imitating God’s love; if we remember that Christ has no hands but our hands to do His work today.